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Report reveals calls for establishment of a new court of law

A national initiative aimed at ending generational conflict trauma through transitional justice is finally taking shape one year after a Transitional Justice Working Group under the Ministry of Justice embarked on a public opinion poll on approaches to transitional justice.

The Working Group – a team of human rights experts under the Ministry – conducted 58 public discussion sessions across the country, involving close to 3,400 designated public representatives, before publishing a 270-page report on December 29, 2023.

The Working Group polled discussion participants to gather input and public opinion to shape the transitional justice policy, which will guide how it will proceed in addressing human rights violations, particularly those in the more distant past.

The initiative is hoped to ensure justice and compensation for victims and their families, as well as help guide the country onto a path of peaceful nation-building. The initiative was also stipulated in the Pretoria Agreement, which ended the bloody war that ravaged the country’s north for two years.

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One of the questions posed to participants was to determine who should be leading the transitional justice initiative. The majority supported the formation of a new and special court to hear appeals, investigate the truth, and pass a verdict.

A few participants suggested the installment of a special bench within the existing Federal High and Supreme courts.

The poll shows that the majority would like to see an independent body formed to conduct truth-seeking investigations, while a minority suggested the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) be put to the task.

Some participants suggested that an independent international body be tasked to run the transitional justice initiative, expressing doubt in the impartiality of domestic institutions or experts. There were also calls for a coalition of local and international bodies to lead the initiative.

However, the involvement of international entities seems like it is off the cards as the federal government has been outspoken in its opposition to foreign involvement in transitional justice, which it says must be led by the Ethiopian government.

Many participants argue the government, which is itself implicated in the violations, cannot be part of the transitional justice initiative.

Participants largely supported the notion that all types of human rights violations be investigated under the initiative. The majority also argue that only the truth-finding institution should be given the power to pardon perpetrators.

Participants want to see compensation handed out to all victims, including financial compensation and economic benefit packages. Some suggested the construction of monuments, memorials and museums in areas where mass killings and massacres have taken place, as a form of compensation.

Above all, participants say the ultimate compensation is a guarantee that the horrors they have witnessed never happen again.

The participants also suggested that a new, and independent commission must be established in order to execute compensation procedures impartially.

On the key question of what time period the transitional justice initiative should apply to, the majority of participants supported the validity of appeals for violations committed before 1991, prior to the rise of the EPRDF. Other suggestions include 1995, when the current FDRE constitution was ratified, or 2018, the year the current administration took the helm.

The document states that 1991 has been chosen for court trial purposes. However, the transitional justice initiative can address cases retroactively as far back as evidence is available.

In a joint statement released just a day before the Working Group’s report was released, EHRC and UN-OHCHR urged the Ethiopian government to implement a victim-centered transitional justice system. The joint statement stressed criminal accountability, truth-seeking, reparations, and guarantees of non-recurrence, involving effective remedies for victims, legal reforms, and reconciliation, must be ensured.

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